Eight Reasons Caution is Needed To Chat With Strangers Online

Updated June 13, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

There are many reasons people are drawn to online communication. For instance, some people find non-verbal communication less intimidating than in-person communication, while others seek connection with like-minded people, and some enjoy the potential mental health benefits of talking to strangers. Virtual platforms can provide meaningful ways to connect with others, but there are good reasons to be cautious when meeting strangers online. 

Unsure if you can trust someone you met online?

Online friendships are common, with one survey finding that that 76% of United States residents surveyed met a friend online that they hadn’t met in person, and 62% saying they had at least 5 online friends. Here are 8 reasons to stay cautious, as well as tips to protect yourself when chatting online. 

Identity theft exists

People with nefarious intent can use information gleaned from your social media profiles or messages for their benefit

The Federal Bureau of Investigation runs a page dedicated to online safety. They offer additional recommendations when you talk to strangers online, including avoiding public internet whenever possible, avoiding airport and hotel charging stations, and not clicking on unsolicited links. 

Be aware of catfishing

Anyone can be catfished (lured into a relationship with a stranger through deception). If you venture into chat rooms and find someone who does not want to video chat, talk over the phone, or meet in person, it may be a sign that they are not the person they say they are. Some other signs of catfishing include: 

  • Refusing to meet in person, or agreeing to meet and then canceling plans 

  • Few photos of themselves 

  • Refusing to talk on the phone or video chat

  • Asking for money

  • Feelings for you develop quickly

  • Soliciting information about you

  • They tell you stories that don’t line up or make sense 

  • They have very few friends on social media 

If you chat with strangers and believe you may have been catfished, you may want to conduct a reverse image search on their photos to see if their photos are used by other accounts. Then, block and report accounts that are impersonating others.  

Know the signs of grooming

Online grooming occurs when someone builds a trusting relationship with a minor or young adult to manipulate and exploit them. They may lie about things like their age, location, background, or appearance. Sometimes, groomers may use photos and/or videos of people other than themselves to gain trust. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty, the following tactics are commonly used by groomers: 

  • Buying or offering gifts
  • Frequent messaging 
  • Pretending to be younger than they are
  • Giving advice, or acting understanding to build trust or solicit more information
  • Trying to keep your discussions secret
  • Asking for inappropriate images
  • Trying to meet in person
  • Isolating from family 
  • Blackmailing 

Grooming is a type of abuse, and people who experience it are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-harm, and difficulty concentrating on daily activities. If you experience grooming, you may experience conflicting emotions. You are not alone, and therapy may be a helpful option. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

It’s easy to give out too much information

Many people upload information on social media, such as geo-tagged photos, check-ins on vacation, photos at the airport, or posts including valuable belongings. Hashtags like #airport or #onvacation are sometimes used by burglars to find your address and determine when you’re out of town. Other posts, such as photos depicting the layout of your home or your address, can also aid burglars. Any random chat is susceptible, it’s likely helpful to guard your information closely no matter what online chat service you use.

If you are messaging with someone, avoid telling them where you are located. 


Online bullying 

According to research published in 2021, cyberbullying poses a serious public health threat to young people. 

Watch for misinformation 

Rumors, conspiracy theories, and misinformation are often spread online. The World Economic Forum reports that misinformation online is a major threat to human societies, and research finds that once misinformation successfully triggers false beliefs, they are resistant to change. Chatting online with strangers may put you at risk of exposure to misinformation, which can lead to radicalization and poor mental and physical health outcomes. Examine profile photos, friend lists, and their public content to help you determine whether an account is legitimate before chatting. 

Crowdfunding scams

Platforms like Kickstarter, and Indiegogo allow people to create projects and receive donations from others. While these platforms are often used for legitimate purposes, some people may use them to create crowdfunding scams. To lure people into giving money, scammers may message you asking for help, or they may take time to develop a relationship with you before divulging a fake crowdfunding opportunity. If you believe you’ve encountered a crowdfunding scam, you can report it to your Attorney General, and contact the Federal Trade Commission to make a report


Hackers may attempt to message you and eventually send a file, photo, video, or link. Forbes Advisor reports that many of these links direct you to fake sites that ask you to enter personal details (such as your password or credit card number), or they may install malware. Never open links you are not expecting, and if you do click a link, take steps to protect your device immediately. 

What can you do to stay safe online?

Though there are some risks, talking to people online can provide an opportunity to meet new people and build a sense of community. To improve your safety, try to adhere to the following tips: 

  • Don’t discuss sensitive information
  • Do not click on unsolicited links
  • Utilize two-step verification
  • Use unique passwords
  • Decline friend requests from people you do not know
  • Leave the conversation if you feel uncomfortable
  • Ask for help if you need it

Therapy can help 

There is nothing wrong with enjoying online chatting. However, the potential for nefarious activities should be taken seriously. If you’ve experienced a breach of trust that can come from being misled online, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing trust issues, psychiatric disorders, relationship challenges, self-blame, and school absenteeism. 

A 2016 review found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective in addressing the symptoms of mild to moderate psychiatric disorders. If you find it easier to connect with people when you’re not physically in the same room, you may prefer online therapy from sites like Regain, over traditional in-person therapy. 

Unsure if you can trust someone you met online?


Though many people have a positive experience chatting with strangers online, there are some risks. By taking steps to protect your information and learning to recognize red flags, you can improve your safety and experience. If you’ve experienced catfishing, scamming, hacking, or online grooming, you may want to consider reaching out to a therapist to talk about it. Online CBT is shown to effectively improve symptoms of psychiatric disorders for most people, and it’s often less intimidating than in-person therapy. 

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